Category Archives: Nativity

We came to the setting of the sun…

The Second Day of Nativity was splendid.

After Liturgy friend Margaret and I went to breakfast and then out to the coast to walk on the beach. The sun was shining but it was wintry with wind beating against us from every direction and tearing the sea foam into chunks of confetti which then ran away across the sand.

We walked and talked and talked and walked, and kind of got lost. We had pushed a long way to the south without realizing it, and then when we came back, we couldn’t recognize the path by which we had come down through the dunes at the start. So, up we walked on a different path, me thinking we might have gone too far and were at the northern access to the beach. Nope. After looking at a map that a couple of newbies were kind enough to show us (we who named this our favorite beach!) we realized that we had crossed an invisible boundary to the next beach south, and were still not back to the beach we’d started out on. We had a long way to go yet back to the car.

So we kept on, till we got to the proper exit, and then turned around to face the sea once more as the sun was going down, for a good-bye. We said a couple of prayers together, ending with “the earliest known Christian hymn recorded outside of the Bible that is still in use today,” Phos Hilaron, which we know as “O Gladsome Light.”

O Gladsome Light of the holy glory
of the immortal, heavenly, holy, blessed Father:
O Jesus Christ.

Now that we have come to the setting of the sun,
and behold the light of evening, we praise God:
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

For meet it is at all times to worship Thee with voices of praise,
O Son of God and Giver of life;
therefore all the world doth glorify Thee.

Matters of heart and flesh.


Today we celebrate the second of three days considered the “Winter Pascha.”
We are still singing these hymns of Nativity:

Thy Nativity, O Christ our God,
Has shone to the world the Light of wisdom!
For by it, those who worshiped the stars
Were taught by a Star to worship Thee
The Sun of Righteousness,
And to know Thee, the Dayspring from on High.
O Lord, glory to Thee!

and

Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One
And the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One!
Angels with shepherds glorify Him!
The wise men journey with a star!
Since for our sake the Eternal God was born as a Little Child!

On Christmas Eve, the sky dark with clouds at midday, we celebrated a Vesperal Liturgy, and the church glowed in a special way with the combination of candlelight and muted daylight.

Then Christmas Eve proper, when it became the next day liturgically, the Festal Matins of Nativity. How joyous! In the cathedral was the darkness of winter night, but with more candles and more festivity, because Christmas Day had begun! Our hearts were soaring. The children were drooping….

When I woke on Christmas Day I also was bushed. I had baked a few cookies between the previous day’s services, which meant I’d been on my feet most of that day. I chose different shoes Christmas morning, and before the service even began I had retrieved my joy. I was introduced to a woman who was visiting out of curiosity, had been raised Christian Scientist, and considered herself “more of a Buddhist.” But her friend of Ukrainian descent, who also had not been to our parish before, had invited and brought her.

As I began to explain why the icons, the incense and candles…  to tell her about the materiality of our worship, how this very feast was a celebration of God Who has no flesh taking on human flesh for our sakes… well, it was thrilling to be able to give a little background to what was so vividly being expressed in fullness right there.

I pointed to the pillar with a fresco of St. John of Damascus painted on the side, and part of this quote on the scroll he is holding: I do not venerate matter, I venerate the fashioner of matter, who became matter for my sake and accepted to dwell in matter and through matter worked my salvation, and I will not cease from reverencing matter, through which my salvation was worked.

On the home front, concerning the matter that is our earthly food, I feel that I am way behind in my cookie-baking.  I have made four kinds now… and no chocolate yet! I guess I never do have much chocolate in the Christmas cookies. But so far my collection leans heavily toward the nut-brown tones, partly because Trader Joe’s was out of their cranberry-orange relish that I use to make my jellies. I am out of energy to create an alternative recipe from scratch. I did one of those already last week.

The cookies above are the Apricot-Coconut Macaroons, which ended up low on the apricot element this time; I don’t know how that happened. I hope to make cookies for several more days, and during the next couple of weeks to invite friends to eat them with me!

Today after church I visited two friends on opposite sides of town. I have no family with me this year, meaning more options than usual; I’m almost forgetting that I need to go to bed early and provide for some down time. At first I thought I could make four stops on Christmas afternoon, but that doesn’t sound very likely, does it? As it turned out, I got home in time for a bowl of Greek Wedding Soup that my housemate had made, and which tasted perfectly delicious and also seemed the perfect delicious holiday food to balance out cookies. She also had a fire burning in the stove, and Christmas movies playing on the TV.

I have plans for today, too, so I had to draft this post last night. I’m still trying to write every day in December — but maybe that was intended to be only till Christmas? I’ll check with Pom Pom. I think it’s been good for me to have this gentle pressure to write every day, because it’s a kind of work that satisfies something in me and helps keep me on an even keel in the midst of such a busy season. And it’s given me more chances to warm up to this:

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Barely touching the morning star.

Until I read the article below, I didn’t know that anyone considered the Bethlehem star to be something other than a “dead astronomical body.” I copied here a rich kind of Advent food, from our recent church bulletin, a meditation on light and stars.

variable star

One of the pictures I found was of a “variable star,” which I had also not heard of before. That name got me thinking about how constant our Light of the World is by contrast, and never waning.

Though the stars we see in our skies are only dead shadows of the living realities, they too have their glory, which is only faintly conveyed by these pictures, though they do decorate this post nicely. We often hear that God is the True Light; this is not theoretical or a mere intellectual fact. Fr. Artemy exhorts us to know a taste of that Reality even in this life, in prayer:

The closer we come to the end of the [Nativity] fast, the brighter the wondrous Bethlehem star is enkindled above our heads, proclaiming to the Magi the time of the Infant’s birth, and the place where He lay…The rays of this rational star (according to the holy fathers, this star was actually an angelic power, and not a dead astronomical body) illumine with their incorruptible, unfading light the twilight in the Cave — the rib cage encasing each of our hearts…

The rays of this star bring the soul, which has but scarcely touched it, to inexplicable trembling and joy, the likes of which we shall not find here on this sinful world with its sensuous, quickly passing pleasures, disappearing like smoke.

I am…the bright and morning star (Rev. 22:16), testifies the Lord. And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give…the morning star. He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches (Revelations 2:26, 28-29).

Ye do well, repeats the Apostle Peter, that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19). The morning star is hidden prayer of the heart! It is made not with lips or fingers, but with the mind and heart; it turns all of man’s existence to the Lord, and places the disciple before the most radiant face of his Teacher…

Illumined by the unwaning light of the Nativity star, let us pass…under the canopy of the very cave in Bethlehem…There He is, the Angel of Great Counsel, the King of the world, the Father of the age to come, as the “Old Testament Evangelist,” the Holy Prophet Isaiah, exclaimed in prophetic, sober inebriation. There He is, the Yearning of the nations, the Expectation of all peoples, the Great Light that has come into the world to enlighten those sitting in darkness! Already celebrating the Forefeast of the Nativity night that is bright as day, let us sing…with the whole Church, “Christ is born, give ye glory…Christ is on earth, let us be exalted. Sing unto the Lord all the earth…” [Nativity hymn].

–Father Artemy Vladimirov

 

The moment when Before turned into After.

When I began blogging I read Maria’s blog which featured a poem a day taken from a book in her local public library. She always included a painting to go with the poem. After only two years the project ended abruptly, and even the queries from faithful readers in the comments stopped five years ago. I had saved many, many poems from her offerings, and here I am sharing/copying one as an echo of her post for December 25, 2010, painting still attached. Thank you, Maria, wherever you are! I know you are with God.

BC: AD

This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future’s
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.

This was the moment when nothing
Happened. Only dull peace
Sprawled boringly over the earth.

This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.

And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect

Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.

~ U. A. Fanthorpe (1929-2009), English poet

The Holy Family with Angels by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1606-1669